The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: Singapore Allures Ethiopian Businesses With Cheap Credit

chamber of commerce,formally known as Singapore Business Federation (SBF,) advised their Ethiopian counterparts to invest in Asia's financial capital-Singapore-if they want to get their hands on cheap credit available to companies with branch offices there.

Cody Lee, SBF director for the Middle East and Africa, told members of the local business community that credit, which he learned to be the biggest problem for Ethiopian businesses, could be accessible far more easily in his home country. Further more, he also advertised cheap credit at a rate of 4 percent interest, which can be secured by simply establishing a branch office in Singapore and operating a credible business. He also indicated that members of the business community have the opportunity to expatriate this credit freely to their country of origin. Compared to Ethiopia's bank rates, Singapore offers businesses at an extremely lesser interest rate, and from this, Ethiopian businesses can benefit highly in light of the recent shortage of credit and business loans, Lee argued. Many local businesses in Ethiopia are in desperate need of credit services and many of them blame financial institutions for failing. Lee seems more aware of the situation in Ethiopia and used the gap in the financial sector to pitch Singapore as a favorable business location.

Heading some dozens of Singaporean businesses, SBF held a forum and a business-to-business session on Thursday at Ghion Hotel. Such a gathering was held last year as well. This time around, however, Singaporean businesses were more mindful of what they could tap into in Ethiopia, Lee said. As representative of the businesses, Lee is keen to know and talk about the challenges his countrymen based in Ethiopia are facing. Inconsistencies between the federal and regional governments affected Singaporean businesses engaged in agricultural activities. Frequent changes of laws and regulations of the country again make it hard to invest, according to many expatriates. Yet, such hurdles are not unique to Ethiopia, Lee reiterates.

The bilateral trade between Singapore and Ethiopia remains at its lowest. Gashaw Debebe, secretary general of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association (ACCSA,) outlined how Ethiopia's export to Singapore has been fluctuating over the past seven years between USD two million and 11 million. The import trade has been gaining momentum since 2011, registering USD 19.5 million. G. Jayakrishanan, director of International Enterprise for the Middle East and Africa, agrees that bilateral trade between the two states is merely USD 30 million, "weak to talk about but possible to flourish," he said. International Enterprise is a governmental agency responsible for running the external economy of Singapore across the globe. Lee argues that business relations dwarfed following the coming of Dubai, which took most African businesses for granted, and the proximity has provided cost effective opportunities for the later. However, recently, Ethiopian Airlines launched trial flights to Singapore, which is one of the reasons some Singaporean manufacturers want to engage the government in negotiations to venture in agro processing. But Lee preferred not to name the companies until the deals are sealed.

According to Lee, SBF gave more emphasis to Sudan than Ethiopia as the latter has closer ties with the country; businesses in Singapore seem to be exploring new destinations. Sudan is one of the new markets that Singaporeans have never ventured into. But, it is also stimulating for countries like Singapore with less resource endowments such as energy to have a closer look at what can they get out of resource rich countries in Africa. Jayakrishnan said that his country, though blessed with untapped deep-sea oil Riggs, is yet to graduate from dependencies on imports of oil and gas. Until recently, the tiny island nation drank water imported from Malaysia via pipes.

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